North-South divide 'sharpened by slump'

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The Independent Online

A grim assessment of how the recession has affected the North of England has been published by a leading think-tank.

IPPR North says that Northern cities have suffered from a "triple whammy" of blows: unemployment, already high, has become proportionately worse; inner-city regeneration schemes have been especially badly affected by the housing crash; and the coming cuts in public spending will also rob them of a boost in spending on the NHS, schools and universities.

IPPR North concludes that "it has been unfashionable in recent years to talk about a North-South divide in the UK but, in England at least, that divide has never gone away".

The IPPR says that while there have been some exceptional cases of Southern areas where unemployment has soared, the brunt of the pain has been felt in traditional areas of higher unemployment. The vast majority of areas with the biggest rise in their unemployment rate have been in the West Midlands and Yorkshire, including Walsall, Wolverhampton, Hull, Doncaster and Rotherham. There is a strong link between employment in manufacturing and higher unemployment.

A decline in construction also promises to hold back regeneration efforts. "A significant worry is that housing-led regeneration activity will not rebound in 2010 or 2011, even if the economy emerges from recession," the think-tank says. "This could be a severe blow to housing-led efforts aimed at regenerating deprived areas within northern cities unless an alternative source of funds can be found."

Behind Northern Ireland and Wales, the North-east looks the most vulnerable region in England to cuts in public spending, equivalent to 52 per cent of regional "GDP", compared with a national figure of 38 per cent. The North-west (47 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (44 per cent) are also more vulnerable than the average. Overall, Barnsley, Newcastle, Liverpool and Blackpool are places that are highly likely to see cuts because a large proportion of their economies are reliant on public-sector activities, as well as Swansea, Hastings, Ipswich and Newport.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said: "The Northern regions must attract the jobs of the future in areas such as green and creative technologies."